Creating a Healthy Global Food Economy
Welcome to the February 24, 2006 edition of the Satya Center newsletter.
Warm greetings from your Editors, Curtis Lang and Jane Sherry.
This newsletter focuses on news stories from around the world, and our opening editorial highlights the many ways that we can make a difference – through our personal choices, through our example, through our efforts to educate others and through political action as individuals and as members of communities and groups.
Today, as farmers and gardeners turn their attention to spring planting, we are focusing on food issues, sustainable agriculture, and how we can restructure our current disastrously inefficient industrial farm system.
In the February 2, 2006 newsletter, much was made of the fact that the average American worker has a lot of trouble just paying for the high cost of housing, health care and groceries, and that for many families it is just plain impossible to pay for high quality, organic food from high-cost stores like Whole Foods.
As Stan Cox wrote in a great article entitled “Natural Food, Unnatural Prices,” on Alternet, “Whole Foods CEO John Mackey is frank about that. He recently told The Independent (UK), ‘You can't have it both ways. If you want the highest quality, it costs more. It's like complaining that a BMW is more expensive than a Hyundai. Yes, but you're getting a better car.’”
“And few Whole Foods Markets are situated in economy-car country. Of the 170 stores in the U.S., none are located in zip codes with average 2003 household incomes at or below $31,000 -- the approximate income earned by a full-time employee earning the average Whole Foods wage.”
“Only nine of the 170 stores are in zip codes with incomes of $43,300 or lower. That was the median income in the United States that year (that is, half of U.S. households had incomes lower, and half of them higher, than $43,300).”
“Half of the zip codes with Whole Foods stores lie above $72,000 in average income. A fourth of them exceed $100,000.”
“Mackey's defense of high prices is mirrored in Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott's defense of his company's low wages, which he summed up in an address to employees last October: ‘I ask anyone to do the math. Even slight overall adjustments to wages eliminate our thin profit margin.’ And, said Scott, price increases are out of the question because even as it is, ‘our customers simply don't have the money to buy necessities between paychecks.’”
The current system of industrial agriculture is simply unable to provide healthy food at affordable prices to the majority of workers in the richest country in the world, despite the fact that our “free market” system of oligopoly global capitalism provides massive government subsidies to the largest players in the agricultural-industrial complex, who provide chemical-laden mass-produced foodstuffs largely shorn of vitality and natural nutrients at deep discounts to the billions of global citizens unable to pay big bucks for organic produce, wild fish and free-range beef, pork and chicken.
Those who claim the current system provides abundant low-cost food on a scale never before realized in the world are looking at a very narrow view of the agricultural landscape.
The full cost of today’s “cheap food” is not completely accounted for. That low-cost food is dependent upon government farm subsidies that go disproportionately to the largest players. “Cheap” food depends upon US military intervention in many foreign countries to insure a continuous supply of “cheap oil” for fertilizers, pesticides and transportation across continents. The US taxpayer pays several hundred billion dollars a year to support the vast global military machine that insures a steady stream of “cheap oil”. If food producers had to pay for the cost of this constant military intervention they would have to pay an additional $10 a barrel for oil used in their industry, and many would instantly go bankrupt.
The prices at Wal-Mart and Shop-Rite do not include a vast range of other “hidden costs” that are paid by taxpayers and consumers in a myriad of other ways.
If we calculated the social costs of cheap industrial food the costs would look much different. Think of the exploitation of migrant farm workers whose cancer rates and birth defects, and low quality of life are subsidizing our factory farm system because of corporate agriculture working conditions --- and how each one of us benefits from that exploitation.
Our system of industrial agriculture degrades the earth to produce more and more low-cost, low-quality food. If we calculated the true costs to our environment for the “cheap food” agricultural policy with its dependence on chemical fertilizers that rob the soil of integrity and create ever greater dependence on extra water to feed the nitrogen imbalance and ever more petro-chemicals to run the corporate agricultural machine, we would see there is a tremendous inherent cost and that we are leaving a monstrous ecological debt to the future generations of the earth.
Because industrial agriculture pollutes the earth and water and degrades the soil, our food contains less and less of the vital nutrients we need for healthy living. Factory produced foods of all kinds, vegetables, meats, fish, eggs, dairy products, all are increasingly contaminated with chemicals, diseased animal parts, virulent bacteria ...and more. If we consider the long-range health consequences of eating chemically laden, devitalized, nutrient poor food, the real price tag is actually much higher and we are paying for it as a society with ever-escalating medical bills and health insurance rates, not to mention poor quality of life.
What’s the long-term cost to society when a long time family farm business goes bankrupt? What’s the social value of the knowledge base of a farm family -- or of a rural community with many farmers and high-value added small craft producers like jam makers and cheese makers? What’s the cost to the consumer of having fewer and fewer choices about who to buy your food from…and fewer and fewer mega-corporations controlling the food supply?
What is the environmental and social cost of large, corporate farms? What is the cost to global society of the loss of seed diversity and the contamination of traditionally planted fields by GM crops? What is the cost to society when all farmers must buy seed and pesticide from a chemical-agricultural oligopoly that genetically modifies the food you eat without doing adequate testing to determine that the food is healthy to eat and that the GM crops won’t stimulate the growth of mutated insects that are immune to all types of pesticides?
Perhaps worst of all, we are enslaving our descendants for many generations to come. We are handing over control of our food supply to the lords of Frankenfood – the large corporations like Monsanto that own the patents on genetically modified crops. Soon their GMO crops will contaminate healthy farmland around the world – and they will force traditional farmers to pay hefty damages to the corporations because these contaminated crops have shown up in their fields, and the traditional farmers have not paid license fees to these predatory corporations.
Professor Mae-Wan Ho has been in the forefront of global activists dedicated to rolling back the GMO food juggernaut for many years. Read her acticle about “Health, Human Rights and GM Crops” for a great introduction to this issue and pass along the url to your friends.
The irony of course, is that our food supply would be far less dangerous, and far less costly, if factory farming were to change their chemical fertilizer drenched, pesticide, fungicide, herbicide laden soil over to green manuring, compost & soil building, companion planting & crop rotation. And of course, it would cost less to produce healthier food without chemicals. Farmers would not be supporting the oil industry, the pharmaceutical industry & ag chemical companies, and in turn the earth could begin to heal.
"An analysis of the materials needed to produce our food can be startling. Ten litres of orange juice needs a litre of diesel fuel for processing and transport, and 220 litres of water for irrigaton and washing the fruit. The water may be a renewable resource, but the fuel is not only irreplaceable but is a pollutant, too," according to the “McSpotlight” website.
The other irony, is that farmers, who produce food for this country, whether laden with chemicals or free of chemicals, are not the ones getting rich. For every dollar spent in the grocery store the farmer receives only nineteen cents. The remaining 81 cents of each dollar you spend on food goes to marketing-related activities, including packaging, advertising, transportation, and the labor used by assemblers, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, and eating places.
According to the “USDA Agriculture Factbook”, “The cost of marketing farm foods has increased considerably over the years, mainly because of rising costs of labor, transportation, food packaging materials, and other inputs used in marketing, and also because of the growing volume of food and the increase in services provided with the food.”
“In 1990, the cost of marketing farm foods amounted to $343 billion. In the decade after that, the cost of marketing rose about 57 percent. In 2000, the marketing bill rose 6.9 percent. These rising costs have been the principal factor affecting the rise in consumer food expenditures. From 1990 to 2000, consumer expenditures for farm foods rose $211 billion. Roughly 92 percent of this increase resulted from an increase in the marketing bill.”
“The cost of labor is the biggest part of the total food marketing bill, accounting for nearly half of all marketing costs. Labor used by assemblers, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, and eating places cost $252 billion in 2000. This was 4.7 percent higher than in 1999 and 64 percent more than in 1990. The total number of food marketing workers in 2000 was about 14.3 million, about 17 percent more than in 1990. About 80 percent of the growth in food industry employment occurred in public eating places. A wide variety of other costs comprise the balance of the marketing bill. These costs include packaging, transportation, energy, advertising, business taxes, net interest, depreciation, rent, and repairs.”
Thus it’s clear that the runaway growth of fast food restaurants is fueling the high cost of food marketing. The fast-food industry takes low-quality factory food and packages it into highly advertised Supersized, chemically laden, preservative rich, low-cost meals consisting mainly of sugar, fat and carbohydrates -- meals that are intrinsically toxic and inimical to human health.
According to the USDA Factbook, “Data from USDA’s food intake surveys show that the food-away-from-home sector provided 32 percent of total food energy consumption in 1994-96, up from 18 percent in 1977-78. The data also suggest that, when eating out, people either eat more or eat higher calorie foods–or both–and that this tendency appears to be increasing.”
“According to the National Center for Health Statistics, an astounding 62 percent of adult Americans were overweight in 2000, up from 46 percent in 1980. Twenty-seven percent of adults were so far overweight that they were classified as obese (at least 30 pounds above their healthy weight)–twice the percentage classified as such in 1960. Alarmingly, an upward trend in obesity is also occurring for U.S. children.”
The next time you spend $100 going out to eat or buying pre-packaged meals or out-of-season produce from a Whole Foods store or your local Shop-Rite ask yourself whether you think that the advertising, marketing and packaging of this food is worth $81 dollars to you.
The industrial agricultural system is broken, and the food distribution system in this country is rigged to provide empty calories and chemically enhanced manufactured-food products to the majority of Americans, while reserving the privilege of purchasing extremely expensive “natural” foods from around the world, in and out of season, for the upper classes.
Republicans and Democrats alike seem unwilling to concede the extent of the problem or to propose the kind of visionary thinking that the situation demands.
Some activists, farmers and consumers, concerned about the agricultural crisis in America, are bringing new, co-operative, community based food distribution systems to upscale consumers, and poor and working class neighborhoods alike – new models that offer a way out of the greed-is-good industrial-agricultural capitalist model.
“A growing number of pioneering nonprofit organizations are working to put good food within economic reach of their local communities,” explains Stan Cox. “One of them is People's Grocery in Oakland, Calif. The nonprofit, community-based organization sells fresh produce and staples through its store and Mobile Market -- a ‘grocery store on wheels’ that travels through West Oakland making regular stops. The organization also has extensive educational programs and has helped establish a growing network of community gardens that currently provide 25 percent of the produce it sells.
“I asked co-founder Brahm Ahmadi what makes it possible for People's Grocery to sell good, natural food that low-income families can afford, while Whole Foods can't,” Cox continues. “He said the fundamental difference is that ‘they're pursuing profit and we aren't.”
“Ahmadi says good food doesn't have to be expensive. ‘Because of its huge size, Whole Foods receives a deeper discount from its suppliers than any other natural-food retailer. Yet the prices in its stores are among the most expensive. They are purely profit-driven, so they do not allow that cost benefit to go to the customer.’”
“Once, says Ahmadi, a Whole Foods executive told him, ‘We could not market food the way you do, because our shareholders simply wouldn't allow it.”
“People's Grocery subsidizes its efforts through charitable funding, with the understanding that the donated money will go to hold prices down. But as the low-income market strengthens, says Ahmadi, People's Grocery will try to reduce its dependency on contributions by marketing food that it obtains directly from producers, cutting out as many steps of the expensive supply chain as possible.”
Meanwhile, the public is voting on food issues every day, with their pocketbooks. And they are voting for locally grown, non GMO organic produce, meats, dairy and fish that they buy from farmers they know personally. New types of micro-markets for those interested in alternatives to factory produced foods are springing up across America.
Community sponsored agriculture is one such experiment. Industrial agriculture won't provide you with safe, vital, nourishing food at low prices. It never has. You have to make informed choices. Find out more about healthy farms and gardens, sustainable agriculture and healthy food in the SatyaCenter.com link directories.
You can read about the origins of community sponsored agriculture in the US and about the genesis of one major East Coast CSA in “The Roxbury Farm CSA Story”, by farmer Jean-Paul Courtens, who runs Roxbury Farm in partnership with his wife, Jody Bolluyt.
“Food (healthy, safe, affordable) is something, Curtis & I have been concerned about for many years,” says Jane, “and we have been members of the same CSA, Roxbury Farms, since 1990, when we lived in NYC. We started a drop off site in the Westchester suburbs, when we moved there from Manhattan several years ago, and now we are blessed to live in Hudson Valley CSA-farm country, where our property is literally surrounded by working farms and CSA’s.”
We have found that community sponsored agriculture is a real win-win proposition for the farmer, for the farming community and for the consumers who support the CSA through their yearly subscriptions.
CSAs generally provide consumers with beautiful, fresh, vital organic food at prices far lower than you would find in Whole Foods. The food we get from Roxbury Farm CSA is picked the same day we pick it up, but if we go to Whole Foods, the produce is days old, and after the long haul from California organic factory farms the grocer has to spray the fruits and vegetables with cold water so they don’t wilt in the store. Our produce stays fresh for well over a week in our fridge (if it lasts that long), but oftentimes the produce from the grocery store gets iffy in a few days.
CSAs provide farmers with an economic model that supports sustainable farming practices, by paying the farmer a lump sum for a share of the yearly yield in the winter, when the farmer most needs the money to prepare for next year’s planting. Very little of each dollar spent in a CSA is going to marketing the food.
Consumers take on a portion of the risk every farmer takes each year, because the consumer agrees to buy whatever the farmer produces. If tomato crops fail, so be it. If there’s a bumper crop of lettuce, CSA members eat a lot of salads. Many CSAs provide a couple dozen varieties of vegetables, even fruits, herbs and flowers, as part of the yearly share, and this is good for consumers and farmers alike.
Farms that can utilize crop rotation over long periods of time to insure soil fertility are healthy farms, as opposed to chemically dependent monoculture farms which deplete the soil of nutrients & vital energies.
CSAs often work with land conservancies and can be instrumental in setting aside land to be farmed organically in perpetuity. This enables farm communities to preserve their character as agricultural districts despite the explosion of development in rural and semi-rural areas located two or three hours from major cities.
Want to find a CSA in your area? The Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) Database sponsored by the Sustainable Agriculture Network has a comprehensive state-by-state guide to CSA farms in the United States.
Hook up with others who want a brighter agricultural tomorrow and work together to create new farming paradigms.
If there is no CSA farm drop off site in your area, find the closest farm & find out about getting a group together from your neighborhood to start one.
Farms & Gardens are the lifeblood of our world. One of the best ways you can participate in and support sustainable agriculture is by planting a home garden. May we restore the Garden!
Here are a few other examples from a brainstorming session we had with our friend & visionary Patricia Kaminski of The Flower Essence Society for what we can do to re-think our relationship to food and health, and our ability to afford it –or to help others of lesser means afford it:
a) Develop green centers/community gardens in every urban neighborhood (this is a win-win for our planet, for the beauty of the neighborhood, and for the pocketbook)
b) Develop close knit relationships with local gardeners, farmers and producers --- forge direct buying links that are a win-win for both parties
c) Join community sponsored agriculture projects, buying clubs and food coops that maximize the buying capacity of every dollar – for example buying a case of produce, and then dividing the contents, etc.
d) Learn how to shop wisely and cook with whole foods – for instance – it’s far more economical to buy a 10 lb bag of quality organic rice for a household, than numerous pre-packaged boxes of rice entrees (even those that are healthful- and learn how to season the rice dishes with one’s own store of herbs and spices).
e) Ask your grocers to buy directly from local farmers in season.
f) Encourage restaurant owners, food retailers, wholesalers, or dining services to buy directly from farmers. Hospitals, workplaces, schools, and universities often have food services. Let dining hall managers know you want locally, sustainably produced foods.
g) Don’t buy so many pre-prepared and packaged foods, whether “natural” or junkfood, “fresh” or frozen. The cost to you is 90% marketing, and the cost to our society is staggering. These foods are not nutritious anyway.
h) Buy foods that are in season whenever possible. There is no good nutritional reason for people in New York to eat oranges and bananas in winter. The cost of transporting and marketing this food is outrageously high for individuals and for society. As we enter the era of peak oil, it is simply unsupportable.
i) It is far more economical to learn basic techniques of food preservation and storage – such as buying a box of apples in the fall when they are plentiful and the price is low, than buying a few every week throughout the year (or worse, buying less nutritious sweets or processed fruit deserts, cookies etc.). Apples can be wrapped in newspaper and stored in a cool area such as basement, for many months.
j) It is far better to buy whole broccoli and steam it, than to buy a frozen entree, that cost more and is low in enzymes, etc. It is far better to buy a large container of olive oil and vinegar than numerous small bottles of pre-made salad dressing.
To find resources for healthy eating, search for recipes in our tag cloud or search in the library in our food section. Here you will find new recipes and menu plans written by renowned nutritionists, chefs and Satya Center alt.healer practitioners. Keep checking back for new additions. Feel free to contact us (email@example.com) with specific requests or questions about diet, recipes, ingredients or menus.
It is our sincere hope that we all have affordable access to fresh, local, healthy, gmo-and-chemical-free food and that we may eat nourishing meals with a sense of gratitude, love and communion. May your meals be flavorful, healthy, balanced and a peaceful moment in your day, bringing health and abundance to you and your family. May we all be well nourished so that we are empowered to create a balanced, loving and peaceful world community.
Top Satya Center Stories of the Week
Dr. Mae-Wan Ho’s new article, Global Food Trade and the New Slave Labour tells the story of how South African plantations produce “cheap food” from globalization’s victims.
“South Africa’s commercial agriculture is export oriented, and is fragile as it is open to challenges from the global market and the progressive removal of trade barriers and subsidies,” explains Dr. Ho. “Increased competition and unfair terms of trade with highly subsidised producers in the North, along with other factors such as drought, exacerbate poor pay and working conditions, leading to poor health for farm workers. Unequal trade regimes reinforce inequality for women and for emerging black farmers who are unable to compete with white farmers on economic terms.”
“Western Cape farmers pay labourers in part or in full with alcohol,” Dr. Ho continues. “This is known as the ‘tot system’, a common practice left over from slavery. A steady stream of alcohol is given to the workers throughout the day. Not too much to make them drunk, but enough to make them dependent.”
In “Pisces Foods” (http://www.satyacenter.com/pisces-foods), astrologer Jonathan Pearl provides us with seasonally appropriate dietary advice that will cleanse our systems after the long winter and rejuvenate us so we can enjoy the busy spring season just ahead.
“Since the symbol of Pisces is two fish swimming in the ocean, the first food is exactly this,” says Jonathan. “When the Sun is in the water signs of Pisces, Cancer and Scorpio, we eat more fish and other sea foods. These are loaded with nutrients and for many people some of the few wild foods eaten.”
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Read breaking news stories updated 24/7 from Pacific News Service. Tune in to Satya Center’s 24/7 environmental news headlines and listen to environmental news radio from Environmental News Network at ENN EarthNews.
Top Stories From Around the Web
GM WATCH daily
EU Steadfast in Rejecting Genetically Engineered Food, Despite WTO Pressure
Feb. 7, 2006
Sometimes you have to agree to differ. Europe has done that with the U.S.
over Iraq, over Kyoto, over the International Criminal Court, over US
antipathy to the UN, over the torture of prisoners and extraordinary
rendition, over hormone-laced beef and over GMOs. And those leaders, like
Tony Blair, who have sought to go along with the U.S., are widely - and
rightly - despised.
Science and Development Network
GM crops are not the answer to pest control
G. V. Ramanjaneyulu, 15 February 2006
G. V. Ramanjaneyulu argues that insect-resistant crops will eventually require an increased use of pesticides, and that farmers around the developing world will suffer as a result.
Thousands of farmers in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh have committed suicide since the 1990s, and many of these deaths have been blamed on so-called pest disasters. This refers to the way farmers' heavy use of pesticides has led to increased resistance in pests, which in turn has caused substantial crop losses and a slide into crushing debt.
Given this situation, what should be the response to those suggesting that we apply high doses of toxins over extended periods, irrespective of whether the pests are present? After all, this is what supporters of genetically modified (GM) insect-resistant crops are encouraging farmers to do.
We do not have to look far to find well-established and credible alternatives, namely the use of integrated pest management (IPM), or even non-pesticidal management and organic farming.
Flying in the face of nature
Wednesday February 22, 2006
Migrating birds are blamed for bringing avian flu into Europe. But John Vidal finds there is growing consensus that animal farming and man's intrusion into the environment are major factors in the spread of new diseases
Ten years ago next month, the government first reported a link between the cattle disease bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and its human equivalent Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD); five years ago this week, the cull began of millions of sheep and cows suspected to have foot and mouth disease; and three years ago, severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) threatened global health. Now poultry farmers around the world are on full alert as country after country reports the virulent H5N1 avian influenza virus in wild birds, which it is feared could cross to humans.
As dead swans are found with H5N1, and Europe locks up its poultry, a consensus is emerging among scientists, ecologists and human health experts that this strain of avian flu, as well as diseases such as monkeypox, HIV/Aids, West Nile virus, Ebola, Sars, BSE and Lyme disease are emerging and crossing more easily to humans because of environmental changes taking place and the intensification of farming. Diseases are then spread rapidly around the world with the globalisation of trade and aviation.
Eco-Economy Update from EarthPolicy.org
BOTTLED WATER: POURING RESOURCES DOWN THE DRAIN
By Emily Arnold, 2/2/06
The global consumption of bottled water reached 154 billion liters (41
billion gallons) in 2004, up 57 percent from the 98 billion liters
consumed five years earlier. Even in areas where tap water is safe to
drink, demand for bottled water is increasing—producing unnecessary
garbage and consuming vast quantities of energy. Although in the
industrial world bottled water is often no healthier than tap water, it
can cost up to 10,000 times more. At as much as $2.50 per liter ($10 per
gallon), bottled water costs more than gasoline.
The United States is the world’s leading consumer of bottled water, with
Americans drinking 26 billion liters in 2004, or approximately one 8-ounce
glass per person every day.
Magic City Morning Star
Big Brother National Animal Identification System Could Bankrupt Small Farmers
By Walter Jeffries
Feb 22, 2006, 15:37
Wednesday, February 22nd was Washin